Charlie Byrd (1925 - 1999)

Suffolk Guitar

I had the honor and pleasure of seeing Charlie in concert in 1965 at King College in Bristol, Va.  I heard his stage manager asking about a sound system that was supposed to have been provided.  The employee from King pointed at an Electro Voice microphone and a Silvertone twin twelve guitar amp.  Charlie very politely said, "I'll play without it."

So here we are in a gym crowed with people and the Charlie Byrd trio.  Drummer, string bass, and Charlie.  He announced that problems occurred with the sound system and he would be force to play without it.  The gym was as quiet as a funeral home and we were treated to one of the most tasteful and flawless performances I have ever witnessed!

Charlie Byrd was born in Suffolk, Va and grew up in the neighboring community of Chuckatuck in the company of local musicians who gathered at his father's general store during the Great Depression.

Byrd took his first guitar lesson at age 10 and played at local high school dances as a teenager. He matriculated to VPI in 1942 in an accelerated war-time program, playing in the university's renowned Southern Colonels orchestra. His identifiable sound comes from playing his guitar in a more classical style, without a pick.

After five quarters at VPI, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Europe. He played for the troops during his leisure time, and remained in Europe after his tour of duty, traveling with a G. I. orchestra sponsored by Army Special Services.

When Byrd returned to the United States, he enrolled in Manhattan's Harnett National School, with an emphasis on jazz guitar, and helped to support himself by playing pick-up jazz gigs around town. He took up the study of classical guitar in the late 1940s. Byrd primarily looked up to Django Reinhardt.  Thanks to a scholarship, Byrd traveled to Siena, Italy in 1954 for six weeks' study with the great Spanish classical guitarist, Andres Segovia. Byrd rounded out his studies in South America, where he learned music with a Latin beat.

A master of diverse musical styles, Byrd never blended them. Instead, his programs included something for every musical taste - as he put it, everything from "blues to Bach." His 1962 album "Jazz Samba," with saxophonist Stan Getz, is credited with introducing the bossa nova movement to America. He was designated the first "Maryland Arts Treasure" in 1997, and was named a Knight of the Rio Branco by the government of Brazil in 1999.

His last performance was Sept. 18, 1999 at the Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern in Annapolis, less than three months before his death November 30th from bladder cancer.